Friday, April 13, 2012

Something slightly more serious than usual

Religion.  There's a tricky one.  It's one of the few subjects where everybody's got a point of view, and they're all right.  It's not often you sway someone from their beliefs, whatever they might be.  When it happens, it's usually one of two ways: a sudden revelation; a moment of truth that makes a person realize where they've been going wrong all their life and a new and clear understanding of where they fit into the big scheme of things.  The other option is the slow burner: being surrounded by people who hold a set of beliefs, and finding yourself slowly, almost imperceptibly, absorbing those beliefs into your own values, like some form of spiritual osmosis.

Spiritual osmosis.  I kind of like that.  Maybe I'll email it to the pastor at my church and tell him if he can get it into the sermon and keep a straight face then I'll give him one hundred dollars.

As you might have gathered from that, I have been going to church since I moved to America.  I do live in the Bible Belt after all, so it's kind of hard not to go to church living round here.  Communities and friendships tend to be based around it, so it really is strongly integrated into everyday life.

Now I was married in a Christian service.  I was baptized as a baby, as my mother was Roman Catholic and my dad agreed to bring us up as Catholics.  Except it never really happened.  Before I moved here, I only remember going to church about three times in thirty five years.  That's not exactly what you'd call regular attendance.  It was pretty much weddings and funerals and that was it.  I do remember having an illustrated children's bible to teach me all the bible stories.  The only bits I remember were the Ark of the Covenant, although that might have had more to do with Dr Henry Jones Jr than Moses, and a cartoon of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead which scared the living shit out of me.  I ended up pulling that page out and throwing it away.  Not exactly inspirational stuff.  It's safe to say that I comfortably found myself living as an atheist without any issues whatsoever.

Wifey, on the other hand, is a traditional Southern Belle, and she was brought up in a legalistic Baptist church.  Now I'm not going to cast any aspersions over her upbringing but... oh wait, what am I saying?  Yes, I am.

She wasn't allowed to believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy in case she came to the conclusion that if they were imaginary (sorry, kids) then so was God.  Similarly, she wasn't allowed to watch Disney's Hercules because it showed false gods.  That's just a couple of examples, but you get the gist of the quality of the upbringing.  It's what I would describe as 'fucking mental'.  In fact, it's the sort of thing that would put me off organized religion altogether, as if the guilt and child abuse of Catholicism wasn't enough.

However, in order to woo my beloved, I went along to church with her when I was over here visiting, and to my enormous surprise I found myself actually enjoying it.  I think the reason is that the church we go to is fairly laid back.  Their attitude is not to force religion down your throat but to give you an opportunity to listen and decide if it's for you.  If it's not, then that's fine.  If it is, then welcome to the club.  If you're unsure, just hang around and there's no pressure to think one way or another.

I'd say I'm still on the fence with the whole religion thing.  I just don't know how anyone could know what God did thousands of years ago.  People didn't even have wheels.  How were they supposed to understand divine acts?   Maybe, just maybe, God did create the heavens and earth.  After all, the Big Bang theory says one day, out of nowhere, everything just appeared in a flash and some time later planets, animals, people etc formed.  How exactly is that any different to any of the creation myths?  The only difference is in the timescales involved.  It seems to me that it all happened so long ago that nobody really has any idea how things really started.  Even if someone was around to watch it, how would we even be able to comprehend what was going on?  Putting the universe and the whole of existence into human terms seems crude and egotistical to me.  But of course, I could be wrong!  It happens occasionally, even to me.  I think the last time was around 1985.

The thing I do like about the church, setting aside the spiritual aspects for a moment, is the sense of community it has and the moral guidelines that it sets out.  Yes, it's easy to scoff at that but in recent weeks I've seen first hand how easy it is to completely bollocks up friendships and relationships by having what can only be described as loose morals.  I'm not saying people should be all puritanical;  I'd hate that.  I'd have nobody to laugh at.  But making commitments to people and sticking to them is important, and it's a fundamental part of religion, and it's something that gets left behind all too easily when people turn away from religion.

I don't care if people believe in God or Allah or an enormous Space Goat that urinated out everything in creation one afternoon.  It doesn't matter.  It's a belief, and you can't say someone else's belief is less valid than yours.  Nobody has that right.  But morals, there's nothing wrong with having morals and sticking to them.  Because life does seem to be a hell of a lot simpler and happier with a few morals on your side.

That is all.

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